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The threat to water quality from NY Harbor storm surge barriers


Plastic pollution during combined sewer overflows in the Harlem River in July 2018.
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threat to water quality

Plastic pollution during combined sewer overflows in the Harlem River in July 2018.

Riverkeeper and our partners sampled more than 410 locations in the Hudson River Watershed in August. Where we observed rain prior to sampling this month, the data show its uneven impact. The Roeliff Jansen Kill, for instance, maintained swimmable water quality even after rain, but the Catskill and Esopus Creeks were profoundly affected. Similarly, most sites in the Lower Hudson maintained swimmable water quality, but rain had a profound impact around New York City, where water quality was very poor, following combined sewer overflows.

Now, imagine that instead of washing out into the Atlantic, that great flush of the city’s combined sewers instead met a wall?

In its study of possible plans to deal with the real risks of storm surge, the Army Corps of Engineers has identified massive in-water storm surge barriers that would wall off New York Harbor and/or its tributaries as the key feature of four of its six alternatives. No matter how cleverly these barriers are designed, they will severely restrict the daily ebb and flow of the tide – the breathing of the estuary.

Would these storm surge barriers create fetid pools behind them, choked with sewage, covered in algae and devoid of oxygen? Would the impacts of the city’s combined sewer overflows “back up” into the lower Hudson?

With 27 billion gallons of sewage and polluted stormwater overflow emanating from 460 points along New York City’s waterfront each year, it’s a question worth asking. But, incredibly, the Army Corps won’t even consider these  potential impacts before winnowing its alternatives from six to one or two. The Army Corps will make this fateful choice without considering any environmental impacts of any of the alternatives. The Army Corps will only consider a “cost benefit analysis” – the cost to build barriers vs. the value of real estate protected. The environment is not a consideration – period.

Worse, the Army Corps of Engineers intends to make this historic decision with almost no opportunity for the public to learn and make informed comments. Help us protect the river: Learn more and take action before the Sept. 20 deadline.

In 2018, we will analyze data from more than 5,200 water samples, each gathered by Riverkeeper or our partners throughout the Hudson River watershed. You can help fund this work by becoming a Riverkeeper member or renewing your Riverkeeper membership:
Every gift counts! $10 pays for one sample, $60 funds one sampling location for one year, and $740 can help us cover one month of sampling in the Hudson River Estuary.

The latest data:
Check out the latest data on fecal contamination in the Hudson River Watershed, the best indicator of water quality for recreation. Remember that the data show a snapshot in time, and don’t indicate water quality today.

Find water quality data for the Hudson River and its tributaries at

Hudson River Estuary
Upper Hudson
Mohawk River
Catskill Creek
Roeliff Jansen Kill
Esopus Creek
Saw Kill
Rondout Creek
Wallkill River
Ossining Beach
Pocantico River
Sparkill Creek
Saw Mill River
Bronx River
East River
New York City




Thank You

Nearly 50 partners make the collection and processing of data possible. In 2018, partners include:

Ancram Conservation Advisory Council, Ashokan Center, Bard Water Lab at Bard College, Batten Kill Conservancy, Bronx River Alliance, Brooklyn College, Butler Conservation Fund, Cary Institute, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia-Greene Trout Unlimited, Cornell University, CUNY Queens, DEC Division of Water, DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, Gardiner Conservation Advisory Council, Groundwork Hudson Valley, Hudson Basin River Watch, Hudson Crossing Park, Hudson River Maritime Museum, IDEXX, Interstate Environmental Commission, Jarrett Engineers, John Jay College, LaGuardia Community College, Marist College, Montgomery Conservation Advisory Council, New Paltz Kayaking Tours, New York City Water Trail Association, NYC boathouses, NYS Environmental Protection Fund, Ossining High School, Pace University, Park Foundation, Pleasantville Conservation Advisory Council, Rhinebeck Rotary Club, Rochester Environmental Conservation Commission, Rocking the Boat, Roe Jan Watershed Community, Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban, River at Beczak, Saw Kill Watershed Community, Saw Mill River Coalition, Sparkill Creek, Watershed Alliance, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Maritime, SUNY Poly, SUNY Rockland, The River Project, U.S. Geological Survey, Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, Waterkeeper Alliance, Wawarsing Environmental Conservation Commission, Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club

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